- - Thursday, September 18, 2014

China is love-struck with its new Best Friend Forever — India — epitomized by Supreme Leader Xi Jinping’s three-day official visit to the South Asian country, as Chinese state media revved up praises for India and its new prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Mr. Xi’s visit is being hailed by Beijing not only as a symbol of mutual affection between the two nations but also as the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Mr. Xi and Mr. Modi. The Chinese schmaltz was so thick that Mr. Xi flew directly to Gujarat, Mr. Modi’s home state, to celebrate the prime minister’s birthday ahead of Mr. Modi’s arrival there.

But all of this affection for India is just a facade, for China is hopelessly jealous of India’s other suitor, Japan, against whom Beijing is conducting a global campaign to isolate Tokyo and engage in territorial confrontation.

Since Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power two years ago, Japan and India have moved closer in the military and economic arenas. Asia’s two largest, oldest and most stable democracies view China as a shared nemesis in territorial disputes.

This has prompted Beijing to woo New Delhi — especially after Mr. Modi’s visit to Japan last month — in a bid to prevent an anti-China alliance from taking root.

Courting India also has led Mr. Xi to snub China’s most loyal strategic partner, Pakistan, to avoid annoying New Delhi: A long-scheduled state visit to Islamabad was abruptly canceled on the eve of Mr. Xi’s trip.

Mr. Xi also has brought some pricey goodies to upstage Japan, which has pledged capital investment in India worth more than $30 billion.

China is expected to pledge $100 billion in investment in India, more than triple the Japanese pledge.

Yet beneath the ceremonial and celebratory surface, China’s love affair with India is replete with major obstacles, some insurmountable.

The $100 billion investment pledge is problematic because China wants to use more than half of those funds to build Chinese-style railways and high-speed bullet trains in India, although Japan is the world’s leader in bullet-train technology.

What likely will doom the China-India love affair is the two countries’ decadeslong border dispute: On the eve of Mr. Xi’s “goodwill” visit to New Delhi, new tensions flared in the hotly contested region of Ladakh in northern Kashmir, where China controls about one-eighth of the territory.

Indian press reports say the confrontation took place Sept. 10, when more than 200 Chinese troops and nationals stormed the Indian side of the border in two dozen military trucks and heavy equipment in an effort to stop an Indian water project and to build a temporary road into the Indian-controlled territory.

More than 130 Indian troops rushed to the site, after the Chinese built a stretch of the road, and promptly demolished the Chinese construction, according to the Hindustan Times.

The tense confrontations between the Indian and Chinese border troops lasted at least five days, until the day before Mr. Xi’s arrival in India. Both sides backed off simultaneously to avoid a major diplomatic blowup in New Delhi and Beijing.

The Indian press voiced outrage over the border incident, coming as it did at such an inopportune time.

But official Chinese press outlets ignored the ongoing Indian-Chinese tensions and were remarkably smug in touting China’s “diplomatic triumph” in India over Japan.

“We cannot help but conclude that Japan’s national strategy has been remarkably stupid,” the Beijing-based Global Times said Wednesday in a blistering editorial. “Japan tries its best to forge an ‘alliance of [democracy, freedom and human rights] values’ around China, but it can only be an alliance of idiots. And among the countries that Tokyo has been courting, none is more stupid than Japan.”

Whether China’s India strategy will work remains to be seen, and many Indian security analysts already are expressing doubt about Beijing’s Machiavellian move.

“Despite all this grandstanding, the Chinese won’t be successful in weaning India away from Japan,” Indian strategist Rajeev Sharma said in his blog. “India and Japan do not have a boundary dispute. India and China do. India and Japan have never fought against each other. India and China have. If there is one country which can threaten India, it is China; and certainly not Japan.”

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @Yu_miles.

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